Introduction to Blog

I launched the website and the Blog after having spoken to government officials, political analysts and security experts specializing in South Asian affairs from three continents. The feedback was uniformly consistent. The bottom line is that when Kashmiris are suffering and the world has its own set of priorities, we need to find ways to help each other. We must be realistic, go beyond polemics and demagoguery, and propose innovative ideas that will bring peace, justice and prosperity in all of Jammu and Kashmir.

The author had two reasons to create this blog. First, it was to address the question that was being asked repeatedly, especially, by journalists and other observers in the U.S., U.K., and Canada, inquiring whether the Kashmiri society was concerned about social, cultural and environmental challenges in the valley given that only political upheaval and violence were reported or highlighted by media.

Second, the author has covered the entire spectrum of societal issues and challenges facing Kashmiri people over an 8-year period with the exception of politics given that politics gets all the exposure at the expense of REAL CHALLENGES that will likely result in irreversible degradation in the quality of life and the standard of living for future generations of Kashmiris to come.

The author stopped adding additional material to the Blog once it was felt that most, if not all, concerns, challenges and issues facing the Kashmiri society are cataloged in the Blog. There are over 1900 entries in the Blog and most commentaries include short biographical sketches of authors to bring readers close to the essence of Kashmir. Unfortunately, the 8-year assessment also indicates that neither Kashmiri civil society, nor intellectuals or political leadership have any inclination or enthusiasm in pursuing issues that do not coincide with their vested political agendas. What it means for the future of Kashmiri children and their children is unfathomable. But the evidence is all laid out.

This Blog is a reality check on Kashmir. It is a historical record of how Kashmir lost its way.

Vijay Sazawal, Ph.D.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Pioneering Effort

Ashraf describes the opening of a new hotel that could be the first new step in attracting high end tourists to Kashmir

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 69, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.) 

The Khyber Initiative

It has been repeatedly pointed out that the most important criterion for tourism to have impact on the local economy is to attract the high spending tourists rather than millions of budget tourists. The main handicaps in attracting this type of tourism are the absence of international air connectivity and the lack of world class infrastructure suitable for that class of tourists. We are unable to do anything about air connectivity as it remains under the purview of the central government. They have their own scales to judge its advantages and disadvantages especially from the security angle. It had been given out that the sole weekly flight started to Dubai was not economically viable as Pakistan has refused to give permission to overfly its territory for flights going to or originating from Srinagar. Recently a delegation of some leaders has gone to Pakistan to plead for inclusion of Kashmiris as the third party in the Indo-Pak negotiations on the subject of Kashmir. That may seem a tall order keeping in view the Indian stand on the issue. However, these people could plead for granting at least the minor concessions of over flight and even the permission for Wullar Barrage to improve power generation for Kashmiris during winter. One hopes that these people do think of the day to day mundane matters apart from the ultimate goal of “AZADI”!

The other alternative to improve air connectivity is to promote charters which could come via Delhi after completing immigration formalities. It is not a difficult proposition as we already had such flights from Singapore via Delhi operated by Air India. This should not be difficult for the mainstream leaders to achieve if they really mean to do a good turn to Kashmir’s economy especially the tourism sector! The least they can do is to emphasise the necessity of such a connection before the Civil Aviation Minister and if need be, before the Prime Minister. Nobody is going to take away Kashmir if it has international air connections. In fact, it will help people throughout the world to see for themselves that the situation is conducive for development of high end international tourism.

Regarding the other handicap of world class infrastructure, the Khyber Resort developers have shown the way. The main bottle neck in inviting the global players in star category accommodation has been the ownership of land. The government had earlier made many attempts but all those boomeranged because of the land problem. The one attempt during the PDP rule to sell 50 plots in Gulmarg for setting up of hotels misfired and the government had to eat a humble pie. In fact, during the same period, the grandson of Henry Ford had approached the state government for collaboration in setting up of a world class ski resort but he was totally cold shouldered. As a result he went to Himachal where he was welcomed with open arms. There has also been a misplaced apprehension among the local hoteliers that if the five star chains come to Kashmir, they will lose their business. The people using those facilities are of a different kind and will not come here unless they have a choice of their own. The best alternative will always be setting up of infrastructure with local partnership or even with totally independent local initiative. The Khyber Resort development has shown that the top class accommodation can be set up in all the resorts of Kashmir provided there is local initiative by young and dedicated entrepreneurs.

One thing to be remembered in setting up such projects is to ensure expertise in management and maintenance. It has been observed that many local entrepreneurs spend crores in setting up properties but when it comes to management and maintenance, they are very reluctant to spend couple of lakhs or so. Such a state of affairs is common in the public sector where to quote an example the government spent over 50 crores in creating a world class golf course but hesitated in spending few lakhs to engage an international level golf superintendent! They may have had some political compulsions! However, the private sector should have no such compulsions. On the question of management, one is reminded of the Highland Park Hotel of Gulmarg. The late Benjie Nedou used to personally supervise everything in the hotel and for a long time it was the best address in the resort. May be it was due to his training in the army as he was a colonel in the Guards? One hopes that the Khyber Resort management will not only follow Benjie’s tradition but take it to perfection if they have to keep it as the best address in the resort!

Preserving Kashmir's Architectural Legacy

Iqbal dwells on Kashmir's architectural heritage

(Mr. Iqbal Ahmad, 51, was born in Parigam Chek, Kulgam. He is a graduate with Diploma in Numastics, Archaeology and Heritage. He is an archaeologist, writer, and a cultural historian. Mr. Iqbal Ahmad has published 12 reference books on Kashmir archaeology and heritage.)

Preserving Wooden Structures

One of the outstanding contributions to Kashmiri architectures of Muslims period was the introduction of wood that too in brilliant carving and lattice designs. Earlier it were rubble stones that had occupied a permanent and long place in Kashmir architecture but with the transfer of power from Hindu Rajas to Muslim Sultans in 14th century AD, Kashmiri art and architecture also got influenced. Sultans especially Sultan Zain-ul-Abadine invited Persian artists granted lands and other perks to them. These artists introduced Persian styles in domestic as well as in religious shrines and preferred wood over the massive stones that were already in vogue in Kashmir. The usage of massive rubble stones is clearly evident in the temple ruins of Martand, Avantipora, Pattan and other constructions built upto 14th century AD.

The new initiative of Sultan Zain-ul-Abidine got further promotion during the reign of his successors and gradually wood became an important and common material used in the constructions of Kashmir. Later Mughals, Durrani and even Sikh rulers preserved and promoted wooden architecture at Kashmir.

When Nicholas, visited Kashmir he was fascinated while seeing Kashmiri woodcarvings and lattice work. It was walnut wood that was found sound for making of carvings and lattice panels. The massive stone columns were replaced by brilliantly carved wooden colonnades. Ceilings came to be formed of Khatamband and consisting of small piece types and even doors, windows and arcades of the shrines got filled up with five types of latticework designs. Besides walnut Deodar, Kavior and other woods got used in later periods.

The handsome wooden works are not seen only in classical Muslim shrine but even in olden houses too. Although we could not preserve all such memories but still there are many Muslims monuments, which have preserved their wooden designs. However the modern tastes and new architectural trends have posed a threat to these structures, and at many places even in Muslim shrines wooden columns and lattice panels are being replaced by concrete cement pillars and glass panels. This new practice needs to be discouraged, otherwise we would lost many masterpieces of wooden art. At official level no concrete steps are being initiated to preserve the brilliant wooden designs. If the present state of affair continues, these things would be seen only in the cabins of museums.

Demand For Better Education

Naveed pitches for giving students the most important asset in their development

(Mr. Naveed Qazi, 23, did his schooling from Burn Hall School and Tyndale Biscoe, and eventually graduated in Commerce from the University of Kashmir. Naveed is a blogger and activist from Kashmir, and head of intellectual activism group, Insights: Kashmir. His blogs have been published on local and international journals like Open Democracy UK, The Nation, Pakistan and Muslim Institute, London. Naveed lives in Srinagar, and writes on current affairs, politics and society.)

Disparities in Education

Kashmiri people in pursuit of education have ventured out to different countries. Most popular countries of them include United Kingdom, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, United States, Australia and New Zealand to name a few. In pursuit of a better job prospects, higher industrial exposure and reputed qualifications, many of our Kashmiri youth have realized that it’s no longer good to confine themselves to universities in India or in Kashmir itself because the amount of tuition fee for many popular courses, the lack of modern curriculum, the less brand equity of universities in Kashmir and very high competition amongst students for competitive courses have made matters very stressful for Kashmiri students.

Many Kashmiri students have developed this psychological tendency of studying outside of Kashmir due to emulations for a better future. We have universities, we have degree conferments, we have able professors, but what we lack is the ‘brighter future’ for students starting from the school level to the university level education. We also lack high class infrastructure that we find in the universities abroad. The tier of ‘non-professional’ degree courses namely BSc, BCom and BA which maximum number of Kashmiri students adhere to, have a very low demand in the domestic recruitment sector. The professional degree courses like B.E, M.E, BBA, MBA, BCA, MCA, MBBS and MD are rooted in high competition and merit, where very few qualify. For them, some placements get opened up through local banks, hospitals, some IT firms and manufacturing departments in the government or private sector, but the overall position of employment in Kashmir is very appalling. The reason for that is simply the stagnation in job generation due to lack of proper infrastructure. We also need financial investments from outside of Kashmir and domestic investments through local private companies and entrepreneurs, but the structure of our legal constitution, the militarized borders and the political bankruptcies, have directly impacted the outcomes of degrees conferred upon these upcoming graduates, because they have lesser means to work here, or prosper for that matter.

Emancipation through education is one of the most important components a nation could have to elevate generations, but it has always been a problem in Kashmir. We, as a community, also lack extra circular intellectual activities. Whenever I surf newspapers online, be it Karachi, London or Delhi, I witness a reading routine on these online forums, and a sense of reasoned criticism. Community libraries are very few and desolated without readers. Why are the chambers in our universities not focusing on all core issues like these? Then how will we be implementing good? One of the primal problems in Kashmir is improvement of education standards and the need of converting this unemployed youth to work, with proper infrastructure through economic prosperity. These tentative suggestions are very easy to write, but in reality, it takes years or even decades to emancipate people via passionate and responsible leadership through imparting education and by giving them welfare through jobs and gratuities. Why can’t our politicians try and start now?

During the last seven to eight years, a large pool of graduates have gone to study post graduate studies in the west. In a few interactions with my senior peers, most of them had the same viewpoint. Some of them have even produced ludicrous careers in Middle East and other countries. With the advent of post study work route in United Kingdom (a scheme that has been scrapped now), many Kashmiri students used to earn a living or achieve some kind of work experience for two years, to launch a successful job in the years to come.

After returning from my post graduate studies from England, I began to retrospect what I learned in my college days here and what I learnt abroad. My experience was more than satisfactory and exceeded expectations. First of all, I started to realize that aptitude development and its encouragement carries outmost importance in a western education system. Competitive exams for entering into degrees are not mandatory in most of the courses, and admission is mostly granted on high school grades. The research content, presentations, case study analysis, lab work and group debates carry equal weightage as written examinations. In fact, these entire elements together make up the overall grading criteria, whether at bachelors or at masters level. Even open book written examinations are encouraged where a student is expected to carry significant research to answer questions in theoretical exams. There are research database servers that connect hundreds of British universities, which are loaded with newsletters, journals, newspapers and eBooks that make study bliss for researchers. Group or individual presentations go even up to 45 minutes in some universities, especially in post graduate studies, with a less researched topic. The other thing which I learned was the need of cultural adaption while progressing on a specific group project – at the end, a student benefits from these advantages only when they study in a multi-cultural environment and in countries where imparting education is not done for business, but for cross cultural global interests.

The other important thing to remove education disparities in Kashmir, apart from increasing readership and intellect on various cacophonies surrounding us, is institutionalizing a debate culture right from schools to universities. Our study of history is hijacked by bias. Young students should be exposed more to debating on societal, philosophical, religious or even political issues that are surrounding their lives, apart from academic and extra-circular activities. It will help the students especially from schools to nurture pathways of their future careers. The above suggestions may sound idealistic because there are places in our land where there is not even a proper infrastructure for schools and colleges, but well established institutions should start this practice, in order to develop some kind of efficiency. They should scout investments. Why should Kashmiris stagnate on these crude policies implemented by these non-progressive oligarchs leading us?

If there needs to be an education reform in Kashmir, policy makers should realize the need of quality inflation the so called ‘non-professional courses’. It is ironic that ‘honours degrees’ haven’t been a reality in Kashmir since decades and there is no consultancy on the need for introducing various specialisms’s at the bachelors or masters level. Virtual learning is not preferred to traditional lectures in most of the functioning courses in universities. Why don’t our educationists learn from more civilized countries? And if universities in Kashmir introduce international student exchanges, or rapid industrial exposures, it will be a stepping stone in institutionalizing international cultural interactions.

RTI Exposes Politicians

The Right to Information (RTI) exposes politicians unwilling to pay their fair share for consuming electricity in their private homes

Pay Paltry Bills For Pvt Houses, Huge Amounts For Govt Bungalows 

Akshay Azad (Greater Kashmir)

Jammu: The information furnished in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application has revealed shocking inconsistencies in the tariff and power consumption of the private and official residences of the ministers, legislators and the functionaries of the Power Development Department (PDD), who pay paltry bills for private houses.

Explicitly showing how the political bosses and the PDD functionaries are indulging in power pilferage, the power consumption at their private houses ranges between 0.5 Kilo Watts (KW) to 2 KWs with annual tariff bills in thousands, while for official residences it is between 10 to 30 k watts with the bills running in lakhs.

Starting from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, who holds the PDD portfolio, has consumed 190512 units of power worth Rs. 5,88540 at his official bungalow in two years, between 1-4-2010 to 31-3-2012, but at his private residence the annual consumption is 6545 units.

The convener of the RTI Movement Balvinder Singh told a news conference here that these figures were furnished by PDD in response to an RTI application filed by Sangarsh RTI Movement.

The power connection for private house of the minister for Social Welfare, Sakina Itoo, has only 0.7 KW load with a flat rate of Rs 317 per month, but at her government accommodation she has paid Rs 4,47210 for consuming 1,45248 units of power during past two years.

Similarly, the Minister for Public Enterprises, Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed has a load of 0.5 KW for his private house and has paid Rs 3166 as tariff for two years, but at his government Bungalow, the load shown is 30 KW with a consumption of 1,90512 units worth Rs 5,88540, during the same period.

The RTI reply further reveals that Ghulam Hassan Mir has 2 KW’s load and has paid only Rs. 1446 for consuming power at his private house, presently with CRPF, but when it comes to government accommodation, he has consumed 1,45248 units of power worth Rs. 4,47210.

Likewise, the Minister Aga Syed Rahullah has shown a load of 1 KW at his private residence, while it is 18 KW at government bungalow and has consumed 1,12920 units of power worth Rs. 3,46266,the reply revealed. The reply further maintains that speaker Legislative Assembly Muhammad Akbar Lone pays flat rate at his private residence , while he has consumed 1,19400 units of power worth Rs. 3,66468 at his government bungalow.

For MLA Hakim Muhammad Yasin, the actual load at his private residence is 1 KW but at government bungalow the load shown is 10 KWs with 1,33500 units consumption worth Rs. 3,47200.

Likewise majority of legislators have shown meager load at their private houses and in papers majority of them were not using any geysers and air conditioners, while some of the ministers are also having two connections against the policy of PDD.

“Legislator Moulvi Iftihkar Hussain has shown using 5 geysers and 8 ACs, Jagdish Raj Spolia one AC, Bashir Ahmed Lone one geyser, Ali Muhammad Sagar two ACs, Balwant Singh Mankotia one each AC and geyser, MLC Subash Chander one AC” the reply revealed. Surprisingly, except these legislators others have not mentioned anything about the ACs and the Geysers they use.

The RTI activists, appealed Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to give one time amnesty or some concessions to citizens to settle their power bills and in future ensure proper realization of power tariff.

A Self-Fulfilling Phophecy

Sameer recalls words of his grandmother who had a premonition that Kashmir will self-destruct someday 

Infant Deaths

Dr. Sameer Kaul (Greater Kashmir)

This evening while watching the evening news on national television, I was rudely shocked by the reportage of the 3867th infant death at Srinagar's only- and most infamous - children’s hospital, in the last four years. This is not my PDP avatar at work. These are stark figures uploaded by a governmental agency on the Net. The horrible memory of the spate of infant deaths that hit the headlines a couple of months back has barely receded in the subconscious mind and yet, shameful medical and administrative negligence has reared its ugly head and is staring us in the face yet again.

Is the Kashmiri nation on auto-destruct mode? After having seen more than a hundred young men killed on the streets of Srinagar in 2010, have we now sworn to murder our newborns?

My late grandmother Radhai's words ring in my ears. Pralay will come, she would morosely remind me as a child, when Kashmiris draw the blood of Kashmiris. She was no Nostradamus. But I ask: are we passing through those ill-fated times?

Of course I am aware that civil society groups comprising educated citizens like lawyers, doctors, teachers, bankers, entrepreneurs, engineers, civil servants are, by and large, responsive to social aberrations in Kashmir. But they have either decided to henceforth respond only to political and religious events, or, their sensibilities, too, have suffered so grievously over two decades of conflict that they are stunned into woeful silence. Am I to now re-classify them as mere restaurant-seated, chattering classes, for their criminal silence in the wake of this infant killing spree at GB Pant hospital a la Maut Manzil? It saddens me immensely.

The democratic right of civic protest has long been snubbed out of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh societies by the unfortunate, hyper-security-tinted-viewing -glass of the insecure ruling classes. National security is a convenient garb to crush dissent.

Since Nilmatpurana, Kashmiri history bears testimony to the sad fact that an overwhelming majority of our rulers has been self-absorbed, tyrannical and oppressive. Scan the Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Sikh or Dogra periods for unbiased evidence of good governance and just rule. Only a handful, like Nila, Lalitaditya and Badshah will qualify. In this coveted line-up, I am willing to concede a place to Sheikh Abdullah but: to the persona of this contemporary political leader before his first incarceration. Later and towards the second half of his innings, he was to succumb to the seduction of fatalistic expediency.

There were plenty of early examples of selfless medical leadership. In mission hospitals and against all odds, the likes of Drs Arthur Neve and Edmund Downes slogged to provide much needed succor to our ancestors. In this respect, we have suffered a tragic reversal of fortunes. It is said that the future of a nation depends on the health of its constituents. Given that medical affairs are today in the hands of politicians who are either incapable or unwilling or both, today’s situation is a travesty of that old adage.

In the wake of the terrible human tragedy that has struck the most vulnerable among us, action at national and state level has comprised of a few highly-publicized, hurriedly-conducted ministerial visits. At media conferences, a slew of promises were made for a healthy tomorrow, one which will never come.

The final insult to our sensibilities was delivered when the Chief Minister of our state, in his role as chief administrative officer, brazenly accepted a trophy for excellence in medical care delivery at a conclave held recently by a prominent national magazine in New Delhi. What supreme irony

Growing City With Questionable Future

Srinagar is bustling city that cries out for development to keep pace with its phenomenal growth

City Expansion

Abdul Hamid Mir (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar City is not only the heart, but coronary artery of Kashmir. The city is famous since times immemorial and was quite famous during the Mughal rule. Ranging from slum dwellers to business giants, from a cart puller to a political, the city has been welcoming everyone with a smiling face for centuries. Now due to population stress, the city seems to be inflated, so a well planned expansion is sought. Horizontal expansion (well planned) is inevitable given the unchecked migration of rural population into the city outskirts and given the limited space available for a growing population.

A comprehensive Srinagar Master plan should be aimed at augmenting the standard of physical infrastructure in the summer capital without perturbing the historical significance of Srinagar. During peak years of turmoil, Jammu witnessed surplus developments, now it is time to focus on Srinagar. The historical city needs an overhaul while maintaining its glory.

Lal Chowk, the city main centre always remains flooded with people and transport vehicles. A mechanism should be put in place so that the crowded place do no longer becomes impermeable during peak hours. For God’s sake, the footpaths should be cleared for pedestrians. Old city roads are narrower than streets, they need to be widened. Delay in implementing the rehabilitation plan of houseboat dwellers is slowly making the world famous Dal Lake succumb to extreme pollution.

 Green Belt should have been ‘Red’ Zone for further constructions even for the elite class, irrespective of the status. A flyover at Shalteng (HMT) crossing should have been a decade old. Roads, commercial buildings, and tourist spots etc require a face-lifting. Dog fear and Traffic Jams are equally worrying the city dwellers which need attention of authorities. Illegal encroachments should be completely dismantled with suitable compensation wherever required. Likewise Metro cities, construction of residential colonies should be done in a planned manner.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Women Empowerment is an Oxymoron so Far as J&K is Concerned

Raman shoots down the idea that women's emancipation in J&K is anything more than an empty rhetoric 

(Mr. Raman Sharma, 27, was born in Jammu city. He received his schooling in the Sri Ranbir Memorial School, Jammu, and graduated in political science and sociology from the Jammu University. Mr. Sharma is a free lance journalist and a social activist who has filed over 500 Right to Information (RTI) applications with the Central and J&K governments.)

“Women Empowerment” in J&K is Not More Than a Slogan !

Women Empowerment in the state of Jammu and Kashmir possibly would remain a slogan for at least one more century because there appears no immediate ray of hope as all the political parties believe in lip servicing rather than doing anything to give them an opportunity. This is unfortunate that even after more than 60 years of democracy only 3 women leaders could become even Members of Parliament.

Yes, in the recent history of the state only 3 women from Jammu and Kashmir could enter Parliament of India, Krishna Mehta, Begum Akbar Jahan Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti are the only names that come into thought when one explores political empowerment for women in the state. This is obviously a matter of great concern that when there are more than 5,883,365 female citizens out of total 12,548,926 population and more than 31 Lac voters out of total 64 Lacs combined electorate still their presence in the power corridors of Jammu and Kashmir state remains almost negligible.

The discrimination is done by each and every political party of the state with women, all of them are reluctant in giving them political opportunity to show their abilities and competence. This is being proved beyond any dispute when one have a glance at the list of 89 honourable members of legislative assembly there are only five female Legislatures in the lower house whereas officially it is being informed that there are over 3 millions female voters in the state. At present out of 30 members in the state upper house (Legislative Council) the female representation remains zero. The council of ministers in the state is also purely male dominated and there’s just one female minister namely Miss Sakina Itoo. Out of total 10 Member Parliaments there is no presence of any women candidates neither in the Lok Sabha where all the six seats occupied by male members and even the 4 Rajya Sabha seats are shared amongst the gentlemen.

In this troubled state the female folk is hardly accommodated even at the soft higher political posts such as vice-chairperson of community welfare boards like, Kissan Welfare Board, Pahari Speaking Board, Vice Chairman, J&K State Advisory Board for Development of Gujjars and Bakerwals and other. These posts could be easily offered to the female political activists to show their ability and if they do well their then they might be offer some other chance.

Even at the Panchayat level the scenario is no different, the approach of all the political parties is more or less same, except National Conference and Jammu and Kashmir National Panthers Party no other political party even gave mandate to any other female contestant for 4 MLC’s seat. Amongst total 44 nominations filed for the MLC’s seat there are only 2 female Candidates. Activists and Experts feel that the powerful Panchayati Raj Institutions in the state could be the best option towards women empowerment and to provide them the opportunities to serve the communities and build up leadership character. But contrary to the experts’ opinion, the state government have not even given any honorarium to elected panchayat members. In the 2011-Panchayat elections a good number of female candidates successfully contested the elections. Now these elected Panches and Sarpanches are feeling being deceived because many of them were earlier earning their livelihood by one way or other like Tailoring, Sallon and Handicraft but after being elected as Panchayat members they could not devote time there.

The political empowerment for women in the state is necessary not only to accommodate them or for their social and political empowerment but this is the need of the hour, The sex ratio in Jammu and Kashmir leaves a lot to be desired as it lags behind the national average by a huge gap. The female Sex ratio of Jammu and Kashmir is 883 females per 1000 males and the child sex ratio is also alarming 859 females per 1000 males. Even the female literacy rate is 58.01 % which is 7 % less than that of national rate i.e. 65.46%. When in our neighboring state of Himachal Pradesh, Punjab we can have female literacy rate of 76.60 percent and 71.34 respectively.

The Political bosses in the state must understand the fact that the women of Jammu and Kashmir are very competent, every individual woman here is capable of making change and that’s they work in every sector and level of society. The women folk of Jammu and Kashmir is perhaps the most tolerant, courageous, talented and obviously beautiful and this is the reason that they are living in this troubled state with dignity and decorum despite the fact that in these past 25 years long violence the state had witnessed 68000 violence incidents. Women suffered the most in these violence, they lost their Spouse, Son, Father, Mother, Sister, Brother and other dear ones but their will and strength remained intact. But unfortunately they were never rewarded for their courage, at present there are total 86 women members in the Parliament, 60 in the Lok Sabha and 26 in Rajya Sabha but not even a single from J & K. Why?.

There is an urgent need to bridge the gender gap in the state because no society and civilization can move forward without the participation of its half population as well said by Swami Vivekanand, “There is no chance of the welfare of the world unless the condition of women is improved.” Let’s hope the state would also see a new era where women play more significant role and the state rise to new heights where there are no gender biased and male dominance. It is also desired that in the next Lok Sabha, Rajya Sabha and assembly elections the women of the state are given their due share and the blot on the state that it do not believe in empowering women gets washed away. The activism of student at the college and university level is the only hope to further raise this debate of women empowerment and removing discrimination. The discrimination and prejudice with the women is not only committed by the political class even the state (government) directly or indirectly reminds the female population that they are dissimilar and treated other wisely, only female college students in our state are burdened to wear Uniform in their colleges and universities but no one has the justification or valid reason that why men/boys are exempted from such restrictions.

Women Make History

Rekha describes the triumph of women in bridging the historical divide

(Prof. Rekha Chowdhary, 57, was born in Jammu and has been a university teacher for the past 30 years. She is currently the Professor of Political Science, University of Jammu. During her distinguished teaching career, she was the visiting Fellow under a Ford Foundation grant at the Queen Elizabeth House, Oxford, in 1992-1993; winner of the Commonwealth Award availed at the University of Oxford, 1997-1998; and the Fulbright Fellow availed at the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at the Johns Hopkins University, Washington DC, in 2005.)

‘We Crossed the Line’

Coming back from Muzaffarabad after attending a cross-LoC women's conference, I was asked by someone: 'so what is the most important thing that you accomplished during your visit?' I answered without much thinking: ‘we crossed the Line’. This was actually the spirit which dominated the visit as well as the conference. We had crossed the line literally and also metaphorically.

It was an overwhelming emotion that had overtaken each one of the ten of us who were standing at the Indian side of Kaman Bridge as well as a score of women who were on the other side of the bridge, waiting for the gates to be opened. They had travelled the same morning from Muzaffarabad to receive us.

On clue it seems, it started drizzling and we became doubly conscious of the boundaries and borders that we were going to cross. It was after sometime that gates were opened. Officials from both the sides moved and reached the middle of the bridge and held a sort of meeting for few minutes before we were allowed to walk on the bridge. We crossed the bridge and reached the other side of the LoC just into the arms of the women waiting there. ‘We did it!’ was the chorus everywhere.

It was crossing the Line per se – the Line which has divided the two sides of Jammu and Kashmir and which has restrained the people from meeting their closed ones (close standing here for blood relations – brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, grandparents) even when they may be living a mountain, a river or a road across. The Line once drawn would not allow people to trace their roots and visit their villages and homes that they once lived in but were forced to leave. It was the idea of doing something that was ‘impossible’ till very recently. The line named as ‘ceasefire line’ initially and renamed as LoC in seventies, was opened for the movement of people in 2005 but as a general rule only those people were allowed to travel who had relatives on the other side of LoC. Maybe in the beginning, it was the humanitarian consideration that worked in this direction as thousands of families were divided across the LoC and were to be given a priority over others to use the LoC route. However, soon it became a sort of rule and came to be followed so strictly that even the officials dealing with the paperwork were convinced that only relatives could travel through LoC, others needing to go across had to take the visa route of Wagah.

So one can understand the excitement that we were feeling! Though a few of us had some relatives on the other side of LoC, but many others did not have any relative and we were crossing the LoC merely because we were the residents of the state. It was a ‘Permit’ which we were carrying that was the basis of our visit. No passport was required and no visa was stamped. It was just a single page permission issued by the Government of the state of J&K. It was just like visiting another part of the state. The only reminder to us that we were crossing the Indian territory and entering the territory under the control of Pakistan were the immigration and custom offices on both the sides. That we are among the first group to cross the LoC in this manner, is in itself a matter of significance. We were conscious that we were making history hoping that this small step of ours on the Kaman Bridge will open the route for many other groups – the professionals, the media persons, civil society activists, cultural troupes, students. We were setting the precedent.

Throughout our trip we were conscious that we were not standing alone, the governments on both the sides were very much supporting our trip. From the word ‘go’, we were given the VIP treatment. The ‘delegates’ was our designated name and the difficulties were eased and special arrangements were made in this name on both the sides. The immigration officials on the Indian side seemed to be as excited about our trip as we were. They were wishing us and our conference good luck. The officials on the other side were treating us like royal guests.

The Conference

It was around the theme of building bridges and bringing women's voice in peace-building that the Conference was organised. There were three sub-themes of the seminar: Gender and Peace-building: Understanding women's narrative on Kashmir conflict; Empowering women in peace-building; and lastly, Women, Inclusive Security and sustainable peace-building. The basic tenor of the seminar was built around probing the role of women in the peace processes and advocating for a bigger space for them in all the formal political processes and institutions. There was a general concern that despite being the major stakeholders in the political processes, women are generally marginalised in decision making processes. Despite the assertion of the agency of women in a variety of manners, neither are they represented in leadership positions nor are their gender concerns reflected in the conflict related discourse. In the overall patriarchal nature of conflict, their issues are raised in an instrumental manner without much concern for their gender interests.

Though like every other discourse on conflict situation, the suffering of women in the conflict situation was underlined, yet the basic mood of the participants was to emphasise the resilience and survival of women. Participant after participant emphasised the need to go beyond the discourse of victimhood and to focus on their survival strategies, their empowerment and their assertion of rights. A speaker clearly emphasised the point that too much of emphasis on victimhood leads to the perpetuation of discrimination. Reflecting at the ground reality which points towards the fact that women have come out of the mode of victimhood, many participants talked about the need to focus on the issues related to rehabilitation and reconciliation. Rather that the politics of despair that is generally reflected in the male-dominated discourse of conflict, it was the politics of hope that was being stressed upon. Examples of prominent women were given who are involved in the process of rehabilitation of other women; who are engaging in the issues related to justice; who are playing active role in empowering women–educating them, building their skills, providing them resources. Countless nameless women, it was stated, are providing support to their families. On the whole, women are moving forward, coming out of their passivity and transcending their state of helplessness.

What could be further seen as path-breaking response during the conference, was the emphasis on woman being both as a ‘person’ in her own right as well as a ‘political person’. The language that was used was the language of ‘rights’, of ‘assertion’ and of ‘demands’. Though acknowledging the suffering of woman as a ‘mother’ or as a ‘wife’, the need to go beyond this discourse was emphasised. As a speaker stated that it is true that many women have suffered because they have lost their sons or their husbands, yet limiting them to their relationship with men leads to making their agency invisible. Till the time we continue to see women only in their relation to men, their gender subordination is reinforced.

Interestingly, mention was made, not only of social subordination of women but of their political subordination. Ranging from the issues of absence of women in leadership positions, formal political institutions, and peace processes to the issue of the absence of gender narratives of conflict – the patriarchal nature of all politics, both the mainstream as well as separatist, was pointed out. The fact that the political space is not being provided to women, was taken note of. Demand was therefore made not only for including women in the formal and informal processes of peace building but also in all other political processes and institutions. Extending the debate to other dimension of politics, the political use of religion to the disadvantage of women was also talked about.

Gender remained the central point of conference. Much of the debate revolved around the question of rights and empowerment of women. In the specific context of peace building, the gender concerns, gender representation and gender equality were considered the major pillars. Linking the relationship between gender equality and peace building, a participant noted the two-way relationship between the two. If there is gender equality, there would be better scope for peace building and if there is peace, there would be better possibilities of gender equality. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Women Empowerment

Roshan pitches for gender equality

(Ms. Roshan Ara, 46, was born in Warihama, in Budgam district. She attended the Government High School Aripanthan, and the Government Higher Secondary School Beeru. She graduated from the Government Womens College (GWC) Srinagar, University of Kashmir, and the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi. Ms. Roshan Ara has degrees in B.Com, M.Com, M.A. Economics, B.Ed, M.Phil, Diploma in Women's Empowerment and Development, and Ph.D. thesis titled 'Managing Work and Family Roles: A Study of White Collar Working Women in Kashmir,' which has been completed and is waiting for final approval. Until her teaching position is made permanent, Ms. Ara moves from assignment to assignment. She was previously a Lecturer in Commerce, Department of School Education, Government of Jammu and Kashmir, Srinagar. Presently she is a Senior Lecturer in Commerce, Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Amirakadal, Srinagar. During leisure time she enjoys reading newspapers & journals, staying engaged on Women's Issues, and writing articles for newspapers & journals. She received the National Best Teacher Award for overall performance in 2011 from President Pranab Mukerjee on Teacher's Day 2012.)

Why Does Woman’s Career Take a Backseat?

Today careers for women have emerged as one of the most significant areas of concern for those who advocate education for women’s equality. Traditionally men have been performing the role of bread winners and women the role of home-makers. But with the passage of time, due to education and opportunities, the role of women has changed as they have come out to play their role in the outside world. But with the changing role of women, the role of men did not change. Man continues to play the dominant role of a bread winner and decision maker. He is not supposed to help in performing the domestic tasks, while as woman’s role has changed into the role of a worker and a house-wife performing multiple tasks. This is the social construction of gender where additional burden has always been levied upon the shoulders of women.

Today’s woman is termed as the superwoman as she performs all roles i.e. the role of a worker, mother, wife, daughter-in- law, relative and a neighbour. In our society both boys as well as girls perceive occupations in a sex stereotyped fashion. The development of these occupational biases is the result of role learning process which starts in early childhood. First of all it is the family which is responsible for this sex stereotyping because as a child a girl is always taught to be a best home maker. Her domestic role is always preferred over her career. Then in educational institutions gender bias is prevalent in curriculum and overall activities of the institutions. The textbooks are projected in a biased way. Here men are portrayed as doctors, engineers and scientists and women are portrayed as cooks, sweepers, housewives and nurses etc. Once inculcated, these biases become part of the behaviour of children. In this way, the quality of girls’ education does not match with their personal development. Educational institutions also do not play a constructive role in reducing the gender bias. These biases act as barriers in the development & pursuing of careers of girls. Economic compulsions and lack of exposure to information technology also come in the way of career of women.

According to latest UNESCO data, women scientists across the world constitute: Grade A – 15%, Grade B – 32% and Grade C – 42%. Women’s share in total number of researchers from Japan is 70%, Russia 45%, South-Asian region except Srilanka 30%, while as in India the population of women in scientific field is negligible. India’s women scientists constitute less than 20% in scientific establishments like CSIR. The underutilisation of knowledge of women in science is a serious threat to the scientific community. The professionals engaged in the service sectors (doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers, nurses, bureaucrats) hardly make up 8-9 % of the total women workers and only one percent of the female labour force. The socialisation process in our society gives rise to the discrimination and gender gap between men and women. Our women play a subordinate role and most women who acquire academic qualification give in to the demands of the society and suppress their intellect.

In the formative years of their careers, they devote themselves to the domestic roles and their professional opportunities get curtailed. Women taking up careers aspire to have economic independence, recognition, freedom from the shackles of the household chores and the drudgery that goes with it. But when they gain entry into careers, they face the reality of competition with males, stagnation due to male domination and patriarchal attitudes. If they are single, they have necessarily to sacrifice for their careers, their biological and emotional needs.

Career development of girls is determined by parents, social attitudes, economic background and other cultural factors. A majority of girls, with an excellent educational background, give up their education due to early marriages which are still prevalent in our society. With the result they remain less educated and less skilled and end up working in the informal sector. The girls from lower socio- economic backgrounds and other disadvantaged sections of society have least opportunities of pursuing their higher education or career goals. Research conducted so far reveals that girls from better socio-economic backgrounds and educated families opt for higher education and better careers. The entry of women has been maximum in medicine and fairly low in engineering based courses. The participation of women in technical and professional education continues to remain stereotyped. Women’s polytechnics show an enrolment of 16.8% while as in IITs the participation of girls is nearly 13%. On the whole, women have not been able to make enough inroads into the areas of science and technology which should be a cause of concern for the policy-makers and educators.

Men need to develop a positive attitude towards the career-development of women as it would benefit the family in particular and the nation in general. The intellect of women needs to be enriched to provide the long lasting solutions to the social problems. The need of the hour is to make conscious efforts to develop gender friendly and gender sensitive attitude across cultures.

What Does it say About the Natives?

Bashir laments that Urdu is replacing Kashmiri in the cradle where it was born

(Mr. Bashir A. Bashir, 62, was born in Srinagar. He passed his higher secondary schooling from Baghidilawar Khan, and graduated from the Gandhi Memorial College Srinagar. Mr. Bashir completed his Law Graduation from the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) in Urdu. and received his M.A in Political Science from the University of Kashmir. He joined the Bar in 1973 and was appointed as Additional Advocate General of the J&K in 1984 till 1986. He is a practicing advocate of J&K High Court and has been recently designated as the Senior Advocate by the Hon'ble High Court of J&K.)

Mother Tongue, Please!

The Creator of this Universe has made identity an inseparable part of anything and everything that He has created. It is mentioned in the Holy Quran, in Sura Hujrat, that all human beings are born from a man and a women and they have been made into different tribes and nations so that they can be recognized easily. From this one can understand the importance of identity.

History bears the testimony to the fact that from 16th century when Mugals captured Sultan Yousuf Shah Chak and controlled Kashmir since then the pendulum of our political balance continues to swing on account of foreigners - Pathans, Afgans, Sikhs, Dogras – trying to undermine our political identity; but surely we too have voluntarily chosen the path of losing our cultural identity. Nations are recognized and identified by the country they belong to or by other marks like, Religion, Caste, Creed, Tribe or Language. Mother tongue is the prime mark of identity as it is an inseparable part of one’s cultural being. But we are feeling least concerned in this regard.

Few days before mother of one of my close friend expired and the Moulvi Saheb started sermonising at Nimaz Jinaza in Urdu, despite the fact that whole audience was of Kashmiri. Same happened at the graveyard, while burying her. For a few minutes I thought is Moulvi Saheb suffering from inferiority complex or the audience does not wish him to speak in mother tongue! But soon I realized that not just Moulvi Sahab, our leaders also be they of any stature or shade (because God has been generous enough to us in giving a whole host of main-stream, off-stream, middle-stream and God knows what), who deliver their speeches in Urdu or English despite the fact audience they are addressing to is Kashmiri. So from a leader down to a street hawker it is any language but Kashmiri which is used to deliver the message. More surprising is that certain organizations fighting for this language conduct seminars where also some speakers use languages other than Kashmiri.

Go to any mosque on Friday you will find sermons in Urdu. If the person is from outside state, which usually we have nowadays in most of the mosques, you cannot complain, but what about those who come from this our own land. And just note, when they are fully charged they immediately shift to Urdu or English to make an impression on the audience. In this whole process we lose connect with the language that is the cornerstone of our identity.

Instead of feeling proud of our language, to preserve our identity, we give impression to our coming generations also as if this language is not worth to be attended to or spoken though it serves us as our distinct and valuable identity. Linguists are unanimous in saying that one cannot express himself fully and exactly even if he is highly qualified in any other language than in his mother tongue yet we all are taking recourse to other languages to express ourselves which may not turn out to be perfect expressions of our feelings. I never mean we should not read and write any other language; in that case we will remain cut off from knowledge and learning. What I want is that we should not ignore Kashmiri but encourage it by expressing ourselves in this language, wherever listeners are Kashmiris, to preserve our identity. Otherwise we are putting our own identity to peril.

The Money Pit

Ashraf feels that Kashmiris are suffering from money possession mania and all that matters is making money, by hook or by crook!

(Mr. Mohammad Ashraf, 69, was born and raised in Srinagar. He attended the S.P. High School and the S.P College before joining the Regional Engineering College at Naseem Bagh in Civil Engineering. However, he changed his career to adventure sports like mountaineering and skiing, completing his training at the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, Darjeeling and Gulmarg. He also completed a diploma in French language from the Alliance Française in New Delhi. He joined the J&K Tourism Department in 1973, rose to become its Director-General in 1996, and retired in 2003 after 30 years of service. He has been associated with the Adventure Sports at the national level and was recently re-elected as the Vice-President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, the apex body of adventure sports in India, for two years. To commend his efforts in introducing rescue measures in Kashmir Mountains, he was awarded “Merite-Alpin” by Swiss in a special function in Les Diablerets in 1993. He continues to be a member of the Governing Council of IMF and is also the President of Jammu & Kashmir Mountaineering & Hiking Club.) 

Money, Money and Money!

During the last decade or so when Kashmir had been coming out of the turmoil of nineties, one noticed innumerable constructions all over the valley. The city of Srinagar has seen an unprecedented boom in construction of palatial private residences and shopping complexes. The number of vehicles in the valley exceeds a million and Srinagar alone has over a quarter million of these! The land prices are soaring sky high. The value of rupees one crore has now been reduced to almost a hundred thousand rupees. The property and land sales which people used to discuss just a decade back in lakhs are now discussed in crores! It is crazy to think that just a piece of land good enough to build a nice house with an attached lawn would cost more than couple of crores!

Where from is the money coming? During recent years very rich agricultural land has been converted into houses, shops, and so on in violation of all laws forbidding conversion of agricultural land. The government itself was the first violator. The worst was the railway line running through the heart of the valley. People got money as compensation of their lands. They bought tippers from this money to ferry earth for the railway line by chopping off all the beautiful hills in different areas. In the urban areas especially Srinagar, people have virtually gone berserk. There is construction activity everywhere. Palatial houses, huge shopping complexes, and dozens of hotels and guest houses. Kashmiris have developed a typical sheep mentality. If a sheep takes a particular mountain trail, the entire flock follows it regardless of the fact that the trail my lead to their ultimate doom! In most of these constructions, the Master Plan, the municipal laws, the environmental considerations have been given a go by.

We have some of the strictest legislations regarding land use and building bye laws but the “money” has softened all these. The only requirement for getting permission is “money”. It is like a magic wand. It opens all doors. As already stated, the worst tragedy is that the framers of these laws and the people responsible for their enforcement are themselves the first violators of these regulations! Government Departments and other organisations are supposed to be planners, motivators, and regulators of the private entrepreneurs. Unfortunately, they are entering into business themselves simply to make money for the people manning these at different travels. As Margaret Thatcher once said, “Government has no business to be in business!” But no one follows this advice here.

The money entered into Kashmiri enterprise right from the start of its movement for emancipation from the centuries old oppression. After having been suppressed and treated brutally for centuries, Kashmiri Muslims who were the main sufferers under the Dogra rule, rose up in 1931. However, the movement got corrupted in 1938 itself by the ideologies which were coming up at that time in our neighbourhood. After 1947, the newly created two countries tried their best to corrupt us in every possible way. On two sides of the divide edifices based on every type of corruption have been created. The worst traits of our character have been encouraged in every possible way. The good traits like honesty, boldness, and uprightness, if ever these were there, have been drowned in the sea of corruption. Giving or taking a bribe is not frowned upon at all. In fact, it is quite normal everywhere. People do not mind it at all. Corruption has seeped into the blood stream of Kashmiris! There is no place for an honest and upright person in the present society.

Quite often the development and growth of these worst traits of our character are blamed on outsiders who have tried their best to exploit these to their advantage. That may be true but the basic fact remains that we do have serious flaws in our character and none of our leaders have made any attempt to set these right. Rather they have all tried to exploit these to achieve their own short term goals. Again it is a universal truth that the character of a person can be reformed by example rather than by preaching. We have yet to find such preachers who practice what they preach! Is there any chance of our getting out of this web of money, money, and money? There is only one possibility and that is to reform our basic character. How that can be done? Sir Walter Lawrence in his book, the “Valley of Kashmir”, observes, “The Kashmiri is what his rulers have made him, but I believe and hope that two generations of a just and strong rule will transform him into a useful, intelligent, and fairly honest man”. The million dollar question is how and when will we get those two generations of just and strong rule? Anybody having any answers please?

4,000 Deaths in 17 Months!

Obviously early deaths unrelated to politics raise no alarms in Kashmir

SKIMS Going G.B. Panth Way

Mudassir Kuloo (Kashmir Monitor)

Srinagar: All seems not to be well in the once prestigious Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences where according to the reports mortality rate has been going upwards with the administration sleeping over the issue, not taking any serious corrective measures.

Director of this institute, recently left the state Health department red faced, with his detailed report on infant deaths in G.B. Panth Hospital, must be having sleepless nights as under his very nose and leadership, some “4,000” deaths have been reported there in 17-months, in the hospital that he heads. These exclude the deaths caused by fire arm and also those occurring in 48-hours of admission to this hospital.

It was after a huge hue and cry, the state government accepted that around 4,000 infants died at the GB Panth Hospital from 2008 to September 2012 mostly due to medical negligence. The Director SKIMS Dr. Showkat Zargar in his report blamed the former Medical Superintendent Dr. Javeed Chowdhary for his negligence to control the infant death rate at the Hospital.

However, the sorry state of affairs at the SKIMS Soura, has all along gone unnoticed, that too under the leadership of the Director, who was appointed to review the functioning of the G.B. Panth Hospital. Well placed sources told The Kashmir Monitor that as per the official records of the SKIMS, Soura, 4,000 deaths have been reported in 17- months, which exclude deaths by fire arm and deaths occurring in 48-hours of admission to this hospital. These all are net deaths and the number of gross deaths are far higher. Sources said, the actual numbers of deaths are much higher (gross deaths), as the deaths taking place in first 48-hours of admission to the hospital have been excluded.

They said an average of 8-10 net deaths are daily reported there.

“However, nobody seems bothered to look into the causes of the death rate at the SKIMS showing an upward trend. This despite the fact, the SKIMS Soura consumes the substantial portion of the state budget meant for the health care. There is mismanagement, resulting in poor patient care and alarming number of deaths,” said a senior medico of the hospital, on condition of the anonymity.

An alarming death rate at SKIMS had attracted the attention of the state legislature and the Speaker appointed a House committee to examine the cause of alarming increase in the deaths of patients at SKIMS Srinagar vide order dated 24-07-2012.

This year, 18-patients lost their battle for life at SKIMS Soura during the three days of the strike of its resident doctors. “These deaths were avoidable and the patients could have been saved with careful and timely medical care. But the authorities took no steps to avoid these deaths,” said an employee. Sources said, it has come to fore that 70-percent of blood, urine and other tests conducted on the patients were wrong and doctors do not trust these reports.

Insiders said there is an acute shortage of drugs, improper ventilation, acute shortage of anti-cancer and life-saving drugs, which lead to poor patient care. “There is lack of accountability from bottom to top. There is mismanagement risking the lives of people. The situation is worse here than the G.B. Panth Hospital, but the mess in which the SKIMS has been thrown, is being ignored by the state administration, for reasons better known to the people at the helm of affairs,” said an employee of the SKIMS.

When contacted, Dr. Ajaz Mustafa, who is currently holding the charge of the Medical Superintendent, SKIMS, Soura, said, “The deaths are of two types, one is gross death rate and another is net death rate. Gross deaths include the deaths that taking place in the first 48-hours of admissions to the hospital, i.e. emergency patients like accident patients. Institute is not responsible for those deaths, except if there is some medical negligence.” When asked whether 4,000 deaths are of net deaths, he had this to say: “I don’t know exact the figures. But death rate is not so high. I can’t tell you exact figures.”

A Short-lived Experiment?

Who will do the service when warranty on traffic lights expires?

In Srinagar Signals Are Turned Off to Avoid Vehicle Rush!

Faiqa Masoodi (Rising Kashmir)

Srinagar: While the summer capital is already infamous for lack of traffic sense, several spots in City are becoming commuters’ nightmare, due to non-functional traffic signals installed recently.Though the traffic lights installed at various busy junctions of the city came as a respite from the ever increasing vehicle rush, the technical faults have made many of them defunct.

Traffic lights installed at junctions like Karan Nagar Chowk, Jehangir Chowk, Sanat Nagar, Pantha Chowk, Radio Kashmir Srinagar, Zero Bridge remain out of order for most of the time. And if functional they either flash red or green lights only thus confusing the drivers.

Talking to Rising Kashmir, SP Traffic (City), Haseeb-ur-Rehman said the rush of vehicles is so huge especially in the evening hours that we have to turn off the signals and direct the traffic movement manually. “There are definitely some technical faults as we don’t have the advanced system for maintaining the traffic signals. The less roads and more number of vehicles has further added to our problems as the rush of vehicles is so immense that we prefer to turn off the lights,” the SP said. Adding he said the places like Rambagh, Dalgate witness such heavy traffic rush that the lights are of no use there at times. “These lights don’t work on the sensors but are automatically fixed with some time periods. So they can’t judge which road has more number of vehicles. They glow according to the fixed time and this, at times, adds to the traffic mess. That is why we prefer to put them off on the occasions of festival or during heavy rush of vehicles,” Haseeb-ur-Rehman said. Maintaining that the department is working on the technical issues, Haseeb said it is a big project and will be completed in a phased manner. “Our control room is ready and we are installing the Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in it. That way we can watch the traffic flow on the important routes of the city and can also keep an eye on those who violate the traffic signals,” he said.

About the functioning of traffic lights in winters, the SP City said it entirely depends on the power backup. “Power Development Department (PDD) has also a role to play in winters as the lights cannot function without electricity. They have the maximum backup of eight hours only and need regular power supply,” said Haseeb-ur-Rehman. SMC Commissioner, G N Qasba did not answer the repeated calls.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Bearing Unhappiness Can be Costly

Suhail sees interesting and extreme consequences of life defined by pessimism and skepticism

(Mr. Suhail Ahmad, 29, was born in Srinagar. He did his Bachelor's degree from Sri Pratap College, Srinagar, and completed both his Master's and M. Phil degrees in Mass Communication and Journalism from the University of Kashmir, Srinagar. He is currently working with local English daily ‘Rising Kashmir’ as Sub Editor (News). Previously he worked with the Daily Etalaat (English) as sub-editor and with the ‘Mirror of Kashmir’ as an associate editor. Mr. Ahmad has worked with a Delhi based rights group, The Other Media, heading its civil society initiative desk at Srinagar from 2007 to 2009. He has also worked with an NGO - Institute of Peace Research and Action (IPRA) on its project Cultural Renewal of Kashmiri Student Youth as Programme Officer and Editor from 2006 to 2007. I edited severalissues of IPRA’s magazine ‘Guftaar.’)

Unhappy Kashmir

Earlier this year, United Nations came up with its first ever World Happiness Report. The 158-page report reviews the state of happiness in the world. The rankings in the report were based on a number called the ‘life evaluation score’, a measurement which takes into account a variety of factors including people's health, family and job security as well as social factors like political freedom and government corruption.

If the state of happiness in Kashmir is studied on these lines, it is more likely to reveal a gloomy picture. The 22 years of bloody conflict has taken a toll on the lives of Kashmiris. As if it was not enough, issues like unemployment have made happiness look even more elusive in the valley. As the discontentment looms large, it is usually attributed to factors like adverse political situation and inept administration, which breeds evils like corruption. However, there is more than meets the eye. Besides these external factors, there are many internal factors or psychological constraints, to be more precise, which come in the way of our happiness.

The UN report states while the basic living standards are essential for happiness, after the baseline has been met happiness varies more with the quality of human relationship than with income. In Kashmir, over the past two to three decades, mutual distrust in interpersonal relations has become more common as compared to the past. We admit it in our casual conversations about social life. People seem to be more suspicious, evasive and distrustful of others in the community. How many times we hear our elders getting nostalgic about the strong bond between the family members, relatives and neighbours in the past. It all seems to be gone, replaced by jealousy and host of other counterproductive feelings.

Materialism has also made serious inroads in our society. According to some researches, people who place a high value on wealth, status, and stuff are more depressed and anxious and less sociable than those who do not. One such study appeared in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, and was widely reported in international media in April this year.

In Kashmir, now-a-days, if a person is going for some renovation work on his house or buys a new car, it’s not long before his neighbours get anxious and follow suit even if there is no apparent reason or need to feel or do so. The sense of competition seems simply overwhelming in the valley. Sometimes people think and behave as if all the good things in this life are available in limited quantities and that one could improve one’s position only at somebody else’s expense. We end up putting ourselves under undue pressure just because our neighbour, co-worker or for that matter even our relatives seem to be doing better than us in terms of material possessions or other matters.

We vent much of our negative energy blaming government for our problems. It may not be unique to Kashmir, but we seem to have more conflicting and ambivalent attitude towards the government than perhaps anywhere else. On the one hand, we are heavily dependent on the government for almost everything, from subsidy to jobs. On the flip side, however, we are also quite hostile towards it. There is a general distrust regarding the politicians and government functionaries. This ambivalent attitude also reflects our state of alienation and hence unhappiness. ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is a clichéd idiom we are all familiar with, but how many times we find people blaming their luck. The truth is that fatalism has become ingrained in us. There is nothing wrong in believing that our well-being is controlled by fate. But if we use it as an excuse and stop striving for a better life, we cannot expect our dull and difficult lives to change. Infact, this approach has had a dysfunctional consequence on the overall social change in Kashmir. Resigning to the fate, we fail to explore opportunities of better life.

We also seem to lack the ability to postpone satisfaction of immediate needs in anticipation of better future rewards. We want it here and now. This ‘lack of deferred gratifications’ deprives us of many long-term benefits. The mental inertness we exhibit sometimes prevents us from being more imaginative about things.

Some people would argue that the factors leading to our unhappiness are universal in nature, but does it mean that we should take things lightly? If things are left to their own, cynicism would only grow in our valley. We are not providing a happy environment for our children. It is certainly not a healthy sign to see the kids develop negative mindset about things in our company. Our youth are already battling the clouds of frustration and we cannot afford to let future generations also fall prey to the disease of disillusionment.

I somehow hate the word ‘introspection’, but in the context of this piece, it looks like the first and perhaps the most important step we can take as we try to make our lives happier.

Investing in Environmental Protection of Jhelum

Majeed pleads for more scientific research to save the lifeline of Srinagar

 (Dr. Abdul Majeed Kak, 65, was born and in Nowhatta, Srinagar. He received his primary education from the Government Middle School in Nowhatta and his secondary school education from Bagi Dilawar Khan Higher Secondary School in Fateh Kadal. He completed his college education at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. In 1977 he was the first candidate from the University of Kashmir to be selected by the University Grants Commission (UGC) of the Government of India for a doctoral research scholarship at the university leading to a Ph.D. in Botany in 1980. He is currently the Research Coordinator in the Department of Botany at the Islamia College of Science and Commerce in Srinagar. Dr. Kak has over 35 years of teaching experience and research experience of over 25 years. He has received numerous research awards resulting in publication of 70 research papers and has authored two books on Botany. He is presently engaged in promoting and strengthening local and regional museums, a project supported by a grant from the Ministry of Culture, New Delhi.)

Jhelum: Fatally Threatened

 Our present generation barely knows that the river Jhelum passing serpentinely through three major districts of Kashmir province - Anantnag(Islamabad), Srinagar and Baramulla- is locally named as Veth. It covers a distance of about 180 Kms and ultimately enters Pakistan side of Kashmir, where it is famously known as Kashur Daraya. Srinagar city was based on both its sides from ancient times, indicating that Jehlum was life to the city dwellers. It was used for navigation, community bathing, drinking and for other domestic purposes and also for water sports. No water supply schemes existed in Srinagar at that time and Jehlum was the only source of potable water. Besides, the river was main source of navigation from one district to another and to different areas within the same district through artificial and natural channels.

Situation at presently is totally reverse. Water is highly contaminated; nobody even desires to wash hands in it. Its tributaries have either been filled up for roads, tracks or pathways or so squeezed that the present generation can never believe that once these were used for water transportation.

If we ponder for a while about the origin of this great river and the various crystal clear streams, and rivers joining at various junctions like Brangi nalla, Arpat, Kokarnag spring, Achabal and Lidder nalla which comes from Tarsar; All these tributaries join river Jehlum above Khanabal (Anantnag). A few streams coming from Tral area join it at Pampore after irrigating a vast area. River Sind from Sonamarg joins it at Shadipur. Manasbal lake also drains its water in Jehlum. Last tributary after it passes into Wular Lake is Pohru stream which drains the lolab valley and enters Jehlum at Dubgam. All these sources are so natural when they start, but as they proceed, because of biotic interference, they turn extremely polluted resulting in the formation of giant hazard.

In Srinagar district a huge population is living along its banks, many are engaged in houseboat industries, some still live in their Khuch (small one storied boats) or in Doongas. Few families still live in dingy rooms, or some in unsanitary and unhealthy huts encroached on little spaces available along the banks, dealing with scrap, wastes and thrown-outs from markets or selling hay, grass, fodder, lumber etc which is piled or dumped near the banks close to their huts, causing unhealthy situations, and the remnants directly drain into the river. Stray animals move freely on open banks, excrete anywhere they like, which is also washed down into water. At many places tourists living in houseboats further supplement pollution problem in the river.

Throughout its journey River Jehlum receives countless sewers in the form of ephemerals, dirty water channels and thousands of surface drains after passing through human settlements. They enter the river without pretreatment, discharging huge quantities of domestic and other wastes. Filth, carcasses, garbage and polythene collected by the sweepers from business markets, residential places are thrown directly in it. Not only effluents even solid wastes including other non-biodegradable items are also thrown in it, thereby further contaminating it. The significant change is attributed to unabated inflow channels, drains and effluents from hotels along its margins. By and large the whole sewerage of hotels and residential houses along the river and of other populations goes directly into it and this problem is securing higher proportion. Dumping of large heaps of cow dung to dry up on slanting bunds is washed down, which enriches the water with nutrients like Nitrates, Phosphates, Sulphates, Chlorides etc. resulting in eutrophication of the river. The nuisance of slaughter houses, wastage of tanning and sawmills and commercial washing of shawls and clothes on the banks, detergents and other chemicals go into the river and make it further polluted.

No scientific work till date has been undertaken on the management and other aspects in order to find out the ways and means for its maintenance, and to stop the sewerage of whole population directly flowing in it. Recently little effort was taken by the department of erosion where small stretch (only 3 km) from Sonawar to Dubji ghat (Maisuma) was renovated by constructing retaining walls. Surely it helped in the removal of scrap stores which was a smudge on the face of Srinagar city, but is not enough.

The river is so much strangulated below Dubji ghat to Chattabal that it is impossible to undo the damage unless strong steps are taken. Why should not the concerned department take firm actions to demolish illegal residential and other business complexes on both the banks of the river?

Strict orders should be implemented from SMC to sweepers of the city to be extraordinarily careful and not to throw solid garbage and other residual remains of fleshy animals directly into the river; they should be penalized, if they violate the directives. Fish markets on its bridges should be banned as they throw all residues and waste directly into the river increasing its nutrition. Dustbins with proper lids should be installed at the sensitive points on the bunds within easy reach of the pedestrians or tourists. Stray animals like dogs; cows, horses should be totally restricted by raising bars to go close to the river water. Overall scientific studies should be conducted both by PCB (pollution control board), cross checked by some reliable private agencies that will reveal the extent of pollution, effects of unsanitary conditions of boat populations, over silting in the riverbed, flow of drains and other effluents from hotels on its banks. Recommendations based on these studies will be fruitful for proper environmental planning of this magnificent river.

Gone are those ghats where we as school children used to wait and wave our flags, in coloured beautiful uniforms along with our teachers to the dignitaries who used to move downtown as Daryave Jaloos (water parade) from Chattabal (vir) to Lal chowk. Thus there is impending need to investigate pollution aspects of this river. The base line data that would be available would help us to devise ways to check pollution. The illegal encroachment of river banks should be immediately demolished and converted into recreation and aesthetic spots.

What if ....

Maroof says life without philosophical instincts is not worth living

(Dr. Muhammad Maroof Shah, 33, was born in Kunan, Bandipore. He has pursued a career in veterinary medicine and animal husbandry, completing Bachelors's degree in veterinary sciences (BVSc) at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences and Animal Husbandry (FVSc & AH), Shuhama campus of the Sher-i-Kashmir University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, Kashmir (SKUAST-K), and MA English through the Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU). He is presently posted as a Veterinary Assistant Surgeon (VAS) at the Government Sheep Breeding Farm in Dachigam. Dr. Shah is the author of two books, and has lectured as a visiting fellow at the Jaipur University on Western Philosophy. In his leisure time he pursues studies in comparative religion, philosophy and literature.)

A Philosophically Illiterate Society

It is vain or futile to lament all kinds of degenerations afflicting our society. What is needed is to work for cure. I think we must target education. And in education we need to focus on something that is so little known even to MAs in education or educationists and intellectuals. A philosophy illiterate society that ours is ill equipped against multiple crises currently challenging us including corruption.

We are talking of guarding our heritage without bothering to campaign for creating necessary human resource or infrastructure. Average student here doesn’t know anything of philosophy and thus of the knowledge of general principles of all disciplines, of the knowledge that synthesizes discordant and heterogeneous bits of information in a certain coherent framework. We know much about individual sciences, physical and biological but are mostly ignorant of methodology and philosophy of science. That is why we have been unable to inculcate scientific attitude. Modern science is empiricist and inductivist in its methodology and inculcating it in our newer generation requires philosophical aptitude. How many students could define induction? Thus despite being science literates we are appallingly ignorant of its defining assumptions. We know too little about modern scientific weltanshuung or ideology. How could we conceive a critical understanding of its philosophical and methodological assumptions unless we give due attention to philosophy? General awareness regarding most of things of science, literature and arts is miserably low in our state. One can safely assert–as our great educationists have already noted – by international standards we are uneducated. The subjects like religion and philosophy, art and aesthetics, language and literature, history and psychology, sciences and their underlying philosophical foundation–hardly attract our students. No wonder we are really uneducated because philosophy illiterates. The joy of knowledge, of any science comes from deeper understanding of the subject which demands philosophical orientation in learners.

Philosophy has traditionally helped to pose new problems for sciences. In fact the great scientists have been often philosophers or philosophically inclined. Philosophy, carried in true spirit, will guide new generation to more prosperous future. Different disciplines in themselves and independently operating, can’t give us these insights which the comprehensive cross disciplinary philosophical approach can give.

Development of infrastructure for Philosophy will help to strengthen human resource in other departments in our academic institutions such as Political Science, History, English, Urdu, Education, Economics, Journalism, Islamic Studies, Linguistics etc. as all these disciplines today in the West have been linked to philosophy in one or the other way. Only students with strong background of philosophy or teaching faculty with proper philosophical grounding can properly teach educational philosophy, political philosophy, philosophy of history, philosophy of language for linguistics, philosophy of religion, postmodernist, new historicist and other movements in literary criticism. Relatively poor teaching quality in different humanities department in many Universities including Kashmir University could be attributed to lack of training in philosophy of teachers. No training programme or refresher course for teachers in higher education can claim to be comprehensive that ignores lectures in philosophy. An unexamined life is not worth living, said Socrates. Without good familiarity with philosophy understood in broad sense as love of wisdom and hard consistent thinking good teachers can’t be produced. Failure of teachers in getting respect or setting examples or inculcating moral values in students can be traced to their lack of philosophical training and culture. No culture of higher moral values can be produced without philosophy (hikmah/gyan/darsana).

Our young generation is forced to go to outside the home state for pursuing studies in philosophy and other disciplines or specialised problems needing philosophical background. Thus our highly intelligent youth is led ultimately to desert the state for careers in similar disciplines and we lose future human resource. Institutions for philosophy are required for launching new courses in cultural studies, anthropology, development studies, and comparative religion. All these departments presuppose familiarity with philosophy. Philosophy has been always been instrumental in fighting crisis in values in any culture and guiding youth to pursue paths that ultimately take the whole community to new heights. We owe to philosophers all great ideas that have shaped history.

In fact philosophy should ideally be compulsory for all graduates in the State for strengthening moral-spiritual fabric in our society. If education is to be comprehensive philosophy must be in curriculum. Thus the need of philosophy course at the highest institution of learning or comprehensive Institute devoted to philosophy is too obvious if we are to make the whole educational system geared to full development of personality.

Courses in ethics which have traditionally been part of philosophy are urgently required for medical and other professionals as it is this deficit that largely accounts for current corruption of professionals. The greatest thinkers in history–in political, social, economical, religious, literary fields–have been philosophers–in fact it is philosophy which gives depth perception in any field. Understanding giants of intellectual and cultural history demands we read philosophy.

Philosophy education is an indicator of academic excellence. Today we still name academic degrees as Masters/Doctors in Philosophy. Philosophy has always been the most prized and fundamental of human inquiries and key to greatest revolutions in human thought and history. If Kashmir is to be launched on world intellectual scene and regain its lost status of shardapaeth it has to have a philosophy department of excellence at par with the best in the world. Philosophy is a quest for knowledge and value and thus the quintessence of higher art, religion and wisdom. It humanises and perfects us, deepens our perception and beautifies our inner world. It shows the way to peace within and world. It embodies the values of tolerance and pluralism in a world torn by conflicts. It provides us a trans-sectarian identity. A nation well read in philosophy can’t be mean, materialistic and corrupt. If we are serious against corruption we need to make philosophy compulsory in schools. No man is wilfully bad, said Socrates. Yes, philosophy teaches us how and why we harm our souls by doing wrong things. Religions preach these things but gnosis that is the fruit of traditional philosophies, shows it. Religion’s deeper meaning is expressed by philosophers. But very few know this because they have not been taught it. Once upon a time at least was logic was being taught to all students in Muslim schools. From our Sufiana music to our Sufi poets and from our traditional arts and crafts to diverse cultural expressions the underlying philosophical basis of our culture and religion needs to be understood and developed to appropriate the challenges of the twenty first century.

Kashmir has been the home of world’s greatest sage-philosophers. If for no other reason than merely to be loyal to their great names, to be conscious inheritors of our history, we have long been direly in need of philosophy. 

Expanding Vertically

Ashraf has an interesting idea worth considering

(Er. Mohammad Ashraf Fazili, 68, was born in Srinagar. He received his early schooling from the Government Middle School, Nowhatta, Srinagar, and from M.P. High School, Baghi Dilawar Khan in Srinagar. Mr. Fazili completed his F.Sc. from the Sri Pratap College in Srinagar, and received his Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the Annamalai University with honours grade. He joined the J&K government service upon graduation and steadily rose up the ranks to the position of Chief Engineer at his retirement. He managed a number of important infrastructure projects during his government service, including the Model Town Chrar-i-Sharif, Lower Jhelum Hydro Electric Project, Solid Waste Disposal Scheme Srinagar City, Circular Road Project Srinagar City, etc. He has numerous publications to his credit, including Srinagar the Sun City, Our Ancestors and Saints of Kashmir, etc., which were presented in seminar and symposia. He writes for various journals and is presently working on the Jhelum Valley Civilization.)

City Must go for Vertical Expansion! During the past about 23 centuries, Srinagar has been witness to many transformations, be it in its nomenclature or location with changing rulers like Purana Dishthina (old capital) –now Pandrethan to Parvarpora near Koh-e- Maran hillock to Parihaspora near Pattan to Budgair, Ala-ud-din Pora near Khanqah-e-Moalla and then to Nowshehra about 03 KMS away on north of City.

The main City, however, grew on the either banks of river Jhelum. Dogra rule paid more attention to development of infrastructure like Banihal Cart Road, Jhelum Valley Cart Road, Boulevard on Dal fringe besides expansion of City with new housing colonies like Wazir Bagh, Ram Munshi Bagh, Karan Nagar and institutions like SP College, Amar Singh College and SMHS Hospital.

From 1947 onwards the City has witnessed a faster growth but mostly in an unplanned manner. Part population was accommodated in housing colonies like Jawahar Nagar, Balgarden, Nursingh Garh, Shutra Shahi, Batamaloo, Chanapora and Bemina etc, all built up in public sector.

Srinagar Municipality came into being under Municipal Act 1886. In 1960, Municipality covered an area of mere 28 Sq KMs. The limits of Municipality were extended adding the adjoining villages. And in 2000, the area covered was about 177 sq KMs. The City extends along Jhelum over a length of 20 KMs and an average depth of 5 KMs on either side of the river Jhelum.

Lateral expansion: The development of lateral expansion has its constraints as it is bounded by Zabarwan hills from Nagabal to Gagribal on east and north. On south there are uplands of Pampore Karewah and Damodar Karewah under saffron cultivation and airport activity respectively. The other uplands on south have witnessed earthquakes in the past. On the south-west side there are small Karewahs of Khushipora and Zainakote, beyond which lies flood absorption basin named Hokarsar. On the west there lies a vast water body of Anchar lake and Khushhalsar. Land area between Hokarsar and Anchar lake is agricultural, which is heavily under pressure of urban expansion along Srinagar- Baramulla highway and the Srinagar- Wayil road. During the past few decades urbanization has taken place on agricultural lands upto Ganderbal on the north, upto Pampore on the south and upto airport and Narbal on the west.

 Since the agricultural lands are squeezing, government has called a ban on the change of land use from agricultural to residential and saturation point is approaching when there will be left no land for lateral expansion. The only alternative left shall be the vertical expansion. The present restriction of 50 ft height for hotels etc shall have to be relaxed. Construction of high-rise buildings shall have to be made possible by providing the strong designed foundations for the soils generally having low bearing capacity of half a ton per sq ft. Besides, the physical impediments on lateral and vertical development of Greater Srinagar are reported to be overcome to a great extent by adopting the zonal regulations prescribed in the current Master Plan.

It has been emphasized that in the new areas the preparation of zonal /area development plans shall precede building operation of any kind and no permission shall be accorded unless the zonal/area development plan is approved by the competent authority within the policy framework described in the Master Plan. The approval of Master Plan was to be immediately followed by the preparation of zonal plans, but it is now since 12 years that the authorities are still thinking of a review and have invited public opinion once again. In fact no time should be lost for implementation of the regulations to arrest the haphazard growth of the City. A citizen too is not going to wait endlessly for delayed finalization of the zonal plans due to the gross negligence of the authorities putting forth lame excuses and hence the violations are bound to take place to be compounded by minimal fines as per age-old Municipal laws.

Doing Good, Feeling Good

Tajamul shares a personal experience

(Mr. Tajamul Hussain, 55, was born in Srinagar. He went to the Government Higher Secondary School in Nawakadal, Srinagar, and the S.P. College, Srinagar. He attended the College of Engineering, Andhra University, Waltair, the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi, and the Forest Research Institute. He is a freelance writer.)

Doing Good

Memories of the freakishly chilly days of dismal and distant childhood always send me packing into the nostalgic throes. I would get to the mindboggling visions of those icy winters when I was in my preteens. Winter is a big nightmare for a typical Kashmiri, and that too when you talk of the Siberian Chilla Kalan and the 2 kid chillas. It means poverty, miseries, affliction, diseases and death. Historically speaking during Chilla Kalan, vast expanses of snow, stretched as far as eye could see, would accumulate over days of heavy snowing (followed by subzero temperatures) to be later on smeared with mud and dirt. As if it would never melt, the very sight of the frozen substance gave cold shivers. As if winter were going to be with us forever the unending load shedding cajoled denizens into living life of cavemen….using hearth, damchool, kerosene stove, lanterns, chatta-gheer, earthen lamps(tsoung), kangries, manin etc.

Eyes under pitchy conditions seemed to be of no use….. You could not see, you could not read and you could not work in the pitch black caves. In the unlighted night, as dark as the wolf’s mouth, the howling wilderness would cast a deep gloom and give rise to hellishly nightmarish imaginations. Cuddled up together in the corners of the dark, ill-ventilated cells, kind of cubbyholes, the Pheran clad grave dwellers, with tens of awe-stricken and gloomy eyes gazed into the ghostly shadows that were cast on the walls and roofs. In the pitch darkness, desolate and almost invisible, it’s the flickering flames of the lanterns, chatta-gheer, chirag (tsoung) and candles shining with the subdued brightness here and here that suggested the human habitation. In the subzero temperatures a rubbernecker, who dared venture to peep out, might hold himself in an absolute thrall at the sight of the glittering icicles that hung by the roof tops, but then it would also give him a chilly feeling of freezing-to-death.

We lived in the old city in a 3 storied house built by our forefathers perhaps in the 19th century. The locality largely symbolized kind of slum area…… dilapidated old structures (architectural disasters) that peopled dozens of families in dark, poorly ventilated cubbyholes stretched on all sides. It was a locality that was inhabited mostly by lower middle class (safaed poash) living on haakh batta….. pirs, Hakims, bakers(kandur), dairymen(ghoore), tongawalla, boat men(hanjis), carpenters, labour and the like. Earnings barely enough to keep the wolf from the door, the lone-earners of the families were obliged to feed tens of mouths. In effect a large section of society was plagued with illiteracy, ignorance, under nutrition, ill health, backwardness and all that. A few big bungalow type houses here and there suggested the presence of some well off families in the locality too. They would attract a beeline of poor and destitute to bask under their sunshine and even work as family patsies.

The narrow lanes and by lanes between and behind the lofty structures would invite horde of ragged toddlers, preteens, teens and twentysomething whiling away their time, loitering here and there. Smoking cigarette was symbolic of macho men, and most of us kids would die for taking a puff or two. Freakish games like sazza loung–a game something like hopscotch-, toure-baba (kind of peek-a-boo), bira-ball(cricket) would be played by all, irrespective of sex and age. Hordes (diphri) of gamblers of all ages would settle at the isolated places to play mongapati, trump (Turuf) throughout the day, sometimes even beyond dusk under candle light. A lucky few, as rare as a black swan, attended Madrassas, outanjis (elderly ladies belonging to pir families that taught Quran) and some government (kind of jabri) schools.

The narrow street that connected our mohella with Lal Chowk was hardly motorable. Occasionally when a Tonga or a reda passed through this potholed track the street vendors and pedestrians hurried up along with their merchandize into the shops on the both sides of the road. As I hark back the memories of my childhood, I vividly remember the Pheran clad wrinklie that for some time would situate him (self) against the wooden railing of the small bridge across the sunder kul to beg alms from the passersby. The scantily dressed snow-white-bearded ‘oldie’ invariably started early in the morning, when most of us were still in beds. The beggarly calls of the poor fellow more often than not woke many of us kids up. The ‘oldie’ would sometimes be joined by an ill-kempt tattered girl in her early teens.

On that chilly evening when a couple of us friends were loitering around the road we could make out that the beggar man was shivering with cold. He tried in vain to hide his bare legs. But then oblivious to the icy winds that blew on that evening the fellow kept on begging from the passersby. We stood alongside the kerb to observe him making beggarly calls. But then to our surprise, a turban clad sixty-something dressed nondescript, appeared from somewhere. It was kind of screeching-to-sudden-halt. He looked at the half-naked fakir with curiosity and keen interest. In a depressive stupor the old savior suddenly steered himself towards the old man and caught hold of him by his shoulders. Tears welled up in his eyes. As he hugged the poor fakir, he wept bitterly. ‘O, God, forgive me for my sins; the old man has been shivering due to the congealing cold for want of warm clothes and I …I… the ungrateful and selfish slave of Yours is living on hog and luxuriating in my warm clothing’. He suddenly stood aside, took off his Pheran and sweater and slipped out of the one of those two trousers he was wearing. He then quietly handed over the sweater and the trousers to naked fakir and helped him to slip into them. As the old fakir finished with his job the old messiah took leave of him and vanished in the thin air. The old fakir, after a short break, resumed his beggarly calls